BY THE TIME HACKNEY CHILDREN finish primary school, one in four will be obese. And when they enter their teens, half of them will be at least overweight.
This shocking claim comes from the borough’s Sugar Smart Hackney campaign.
Healthy-eating activists such as TV chef-restaurateur Jamie Oliver have been trying for years to revolutionise school dinners.
Yet some schools ignore the government’s School Food Plan, instead serving unhealthy food, and many students still choose, say, fatty, salty chips or chicken pieces over a healthier sandwich.
Such snacks are contributors to what is often termed “the obesity crisis”. How has this come about? A look at Stoke Newington School, a well-rated Hackney secondary that offers healthy meals, will give some answers.
The school provides sandwiches for £1.50 each and hot meat and vegetarian meals for £2, prices that meet the food-plan guidelines. An example of the weekly menu is shown here.
Aisha, 15, who qualifies for free meals, eats a school sandwich every lunchtime. If she had the cash, she’d rather something “tastier” from a local shop.
Joe, 14, buys from outside the school. He says the lunch he buys from a fast-food shop may be unhealthy but it tastes better and “it feels like you have a bit more freedom instead of eating what your parents want you to eat”.
Many of his contemporaries agree. They, too, buy chips, pizza and sugary snacks from shops within a kilometre of the school. The fast food they chomp into may be less nutritious but the consensus is that it is tastier than school meals and gives them a sense of independence.
The sugary, fatty meals are usually cheaper than healthy options, less than £2, which suits youngsters, who often find they don’t have enough money for more beneficial sustenance.
Jamie Oliver has worked with schools around the UK and with the government to improve the food on offer to students. At one school some parents were filmed sneaking junk food to their children. But mostly his advice has been well-received by the schools.
What else is being done to solve the obesity crisis? London Mayor Sadiq Khan intends to ban all junk food advertising on the city’s public transport from this month February 2019.
A drastic step, but as Oliver has said, “The public health of five million children should not be left to luck”.
Sam Foxell 050219
* The writer is a student at Stoke Newington School.
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